Sea otters are the ocean’s smallest mammal. They can spend their entire lives in the water above giant kelp forests, for which they are a keystone species. Without the otters’ influence the kelp forests would not survive. The key to this is the sea otter’s appetite. With small bodies and no blubber they are constantly burning energy to stay warm, which means they need to feed a lot. They spend half their day hunting, using their flat, paddle-like hind legs to dive to the seabed to fetch sea urchins, crabs and starfish, which they eat at the surface.
The otters also eat the kelp’s nemesis: the hungry herbivore grazers, so the forest (and the life that relies on it) can flourish. But if the otters were to disappear, so would the kelp, irreparably damaging the ecosystem. Another trick sea otters have to keep warm is their amazing fur. Two layers work together to trap air close to the skin and keep the otters snug. Fur needs a regular fluffing up to ensure enough air is trapped, and so this is why if an otter isn’t eating, it’s probably grooming. Sadly though, this fur has also been the cause of their downfall. In the late 19th century sea otters were hunted almost to extinction for their highly valuable pelts.
Gathering in enormous congregations known as ‘rafts’, sea otters are very social creatures. Males and females typically stay apart, so the large groups of otters that can been seen (if you’re really lucky) on Pacific coastlines will all be the same gender. Then, of course, there is their incredibly cuddly offspring.